- News from Heaven by Jennifer Haigh
The stories are both character and place driven (which is always a plus for me). The protagonists vary widely including a teen girl meeting an exciting aunt, a young woman leaving to work as a maid in New York City in the '30s, a life-long resident reflecting on her brother's passing, and a woman experiencing a later-in-life relationship. Some of the stories simply left me cold and I struggled to get through those. Other stories had characters that felt vivid and whom I wished I could "visit" for longer. I enjoyed the concept of watching the town evolve through the years, although I had trouble connecting to some of the latter day tales, despite a strong interest in what happens to industry towns as the industry fades. The concepts of family and home are key throughout all the stories.
There were definite highs and lows for me in this one. I'd rate Broken Star (a woman reflecting on a summer in her teens when a relative returned, bringing a feeling of excitement that contrasts with her rather staid family) and Something Sweet (a portrait of a young schoolteacher in the mid-40s, including a glimpse at a student who has trouble fitting in small-town life) as my favorites. On the other end of the spectrum, I didn't care for A Place in the Sun (a visit to Las Vegas focused on a man who left Bakerton but never really found his way) or What Remains (other townspeople watch the decline of one of the last members of the family that owned the mines and look towards a new industry that may bring back the struggling town). Haigh is clearly a gifted writer and her prose can be pitch-perfect at times, but something about it can also drag when the story isn't connecting. There are moments that are beautifully sad and poignant. There are other times when I thought I should feel something but instead felt cold and unconnected.
3.5 stars. I feel reluctant to round either way...I plan to include this on two sites that favor full stars so I'll put one at 3 and one at 4....